Do Consumers Really Want to Passively Share Their Location?

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The new location-sharing app Glassmap wants to transform how we view and utilize location — in a way that will likely raise privacy questions among consumers.

At a panel at the Street Fight Summit in New York last October, panelists from Foursquare, Goby and SCVNGR/LevelUp debated how the “check-in” behavior might evolve. Glassmap’s answer is to remove the check-in entirely, allowing users to passively broadcast their location to friends (and, potentially one day, to local merchants) all the time.

But are consumers really ready to voluntarily submit themselves to a form of constant surveillance?  And, if so, what do they get out of it? In the wake of new privacy concerns over apps, Glassmap’s concept may make some shiver, but the company’s founder, Geoff Woo, says that the sharing is highly controlled.

“People don’t want to spam their locations to everyone, so we make it very upfront and clear that you have full control,” Woo said. “You have a buddy list essentially of who can see and who can’t … A lot of applications, they try to hide it and make it confusing and we’re opposed to that.”

Users have controls to turn their location sharing on or off, and can customize who can see them at any given moment. Only those with permission can see a person’s location when it’s being broadcast. According to Woo, allowing instant updates creates action and users can find each other in that moment.

“Check-ins don’t allow serendipitous opportunities for hang-outs to occur because the information that check-ins represent is very sparse and isn’t actionable, it’s passive location sharing,” Woo said. “What we’re bringing to the mainstream is making it possible to make location sharing something that can create action and create connections.”

We think the more useful something is, the more people will use it, and we think Glassmap is more useful than Foursquare. — Glassmap founder Geoff Woo

So the value is essentially in avoiding the potential time-delay that comes with the check-in system on apps like Foursquare.  With Glassmap, you can see that your friend is at the same place the same time you are, and can go find them right then. Woo said Glassmap is perfect for college campuses and other social groups “who are always trying to meet up.”

This instant access to user location could also be lucrative for advertisers and local merchants as a new way to market. Right now, Glassmaps has avoided partnering with merchants, but is exploring options, with caution.

“[Working with merchants] is something that we will consider and something that we’re very very carefully checking out and thinking about, because one thing that we’ve seen is that a lot of people just don’t like being pushed ads,” Woo said. “It has to be done in a verym very nuanced fashion and that’s what we’re thinking about.”

Right now, Woo said Glassmap is concerned about creating a great service and he says “everything else follows.” Putting monetization to the side, however, can be a risky move, but Woo says that Glassmap succeeds in function where he thinks Foursquare and others fail.

“I think it [Glassmap] is more useful,” Woo said. “I don’t think Foursquare is that useful… It’s more about bragging about the cool spots you go to other than ‘Hey, I want people to join me…’ We think the more useful something is, the more people will use it, and we think Glassmap is more useful than Foursquare.”

Whether or not Glassmap makes in an splash in the mainstream is still to be seen, but this model does provide clues as to where location-based technology could be headed: “I think there are a lot of cool applications and possibilities and I think we’re just starting to explore it,” he said.

Isa Jones is an intern at Street Fight.